Through photography, sculpture, and installation, Laura Swanson deconstructs and critiques representations of physical difference and how identity is created, perceived, and performed. Influenced by art history, commercial photography, critical theory, popular culture, retail display, social media, and personal experience, much of the work conceals the artist’s identity and depicts her short statured body in playful ways to disrupt the dominance of normative representations of adult bodies in culture.
In her practice, Swanson subverts the expectations of portraiture to explore and highlight the complications of representing and looking at different bodies. In the photographic series Anti-Self-Portraits (2005–2008), she hides her identity with objects in staged domestic scenes, and, in Uniforms (2014–2015), a series of life-size figures, she disguises four foot tall mannequins with iconic garments that cover the face and body. These works consider the act of concealment as a means to agency, while theatrically illustrating the impossibility of avoiding visual detection.
In much of Hope, NY (2011–ongoing), she critiques the universality of the bathroom selfie and challenges assumptions about body norms by placing herself in bathrooms designed for the average-sized adult. In these photographic self-portraits, the viewer only gets a glimpse of the top of her head. Beauty (2017) is a series of portraits inspired by the face mask selfie trend on Instagram. In this work, the artist photographed friends wearing sheet masks in the style of Baroque portraits. These portraits elevate and prolong the ephemerality of the selfie, and they explore the ease of borrowing, concealing, and performing identity in a social media-obsessed culture.
Swanson frequently references the visual spectacle of her short statured body situated next to the tall statured body of her partner to unravel the dominant cultural bias toward sameness—especially in the size of adult bodies. In order to free them from objectification, in TOGETHER together (2009), Display (2012–2013), and Street Clocks (2017), she replaces their bodies with ready-made objects, with heights corresponding to their own. These installations both illustrate their relationship with and critique the impulse to scrutinize conspicuous height differences.
In Recluse (2017), she poses as artists known both for their cultural influence and their intense desire for privacy. Adding digitally painted makeup, hair, and clothing to photographs of herself, this series deals with the fear of being an artist at a time when artists must be on public display and their identity overshadows their work. In other sculptural works such as Homemade Bull (2011) and Chibi House (2010), the safeguarding of agency and the appeal for privacy is embodied through fantastical dwelling spaces that provide refuge to read critical theory, arming the mind.
Born in Minneapolis, Swanson received her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2011 and BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2008. Her first solo exhibition was presented at the Laurie M. Tisch Gallery in New York in 2016. Her work has also been exhibited at the RISD Museum of Art, Camera Club of New York, and San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, and internationally at Arsenal in Berlin, Germany, Media Art Gallery in Warsaw, Poland, and in South Korea at the Jeju Museum of Contemporary Art.
In 2017, Swanson presented her first international solo exhibition at the Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester, United Kingdom and debuted her first public art work at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, New York. Her self-portrait work will be featured in and on the cover of Anti-Portraiture: Challenging the Limits of the Portrait to be published by I.B. Tauris in late 2019.
Swanson was a National Endowment for the Arts John Renna Scholar in 2008–2010, Jacob K. Javits Fellow in 2010–2011, and received a Wynn Newhouse Award from the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation in 2013. Her work is held in collection at the Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester, United Kingdom, and the Jeju Museum of Contemporary Art in Jeju, South Korea. She lives and works in New York.
Download: Curriculum vitae
Recent solo exhibition: Laura Swanson, Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester, United Kingdom, 2017
- April 2017 interview with Dave Hopper for The Creative Process podcast by WAMC Northeast Public Radio
- January 2015 interview with Amanda Cachia about Uniforms
- October 2014 interview with Rachel Ishikawa for the Center for Art + Thought
- September 2013 interview with Kristin Lindgren for the Mellon Creative Residencies